Albertans struggling with poverty got alarming news on Friday with reports that the UCP were planning cuts to the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program, but after a weekend of public backlash--and the release of some startling poll numbers--Kenney blinked.
Had the UCP moved forward, this would be the second time since their election that Kenney’s party would have slashed the program, which provides benefits to Albertans who are medically unable to work. Last November the UCP government ‘de-indexed’ AISH, which means they cancelled planned increases that would have kept the benefits in pace with inflation.
De-indexing AISH was estimated to reduce the amount paid out in these benefits by about $10 million a year.
The maximum AISH living allowance last year was a mere $1,685 a month: AISH recipients were already living at barely halfway to the poverty line. And these benefits have been painfully low for quite some time. Even the former NDP government added little to AISH aside from indexing it to inflation.
AISH is brutally low and has been far, far too low for a very long time. To cut it even further would be beyond cruel.
Rapid and intense outcry over the weekend--online, in the letters sections of newspapers, and to MLA’s voicemails--had a hand in keeping this second round of cuts at bay. But it’s likely that a look at the latest polling numbers gave the UCP reason to pull back, too.
Party caucuses have their own polling data so we can’t be sure exactly what numbers Jason Kenney is looking at. But the most recent publicly-available poll from Angus Reid estimates a dramatic shift in Albertans’ opinions. The poll suggests that the UCP have suffered a massive drop in popularity over the summer, dragging them down to the point where they’d be neck-and-neck with the NDP in both votes and seats.
I’m not usually someone with a great amount of confidence in pollsters, but perhaps this estimate is true. If the rapid retreat on AISH cuts is any indication, Jason Kenney and the UCP are certainly worried about something.
Economist Andrew Leach has written a scathing takedown of the ever more-and-more expensive Sturgeon Refinery project, which Alberta Energy reported last week has swollen to a $26.4 billion liability. Support for the refinery has been political orthodoxy in Alberta for years, with six premiers (PC, NDP, and UCP), oil industry owners, and a big chunk of the labour movement all in favor. It appears that the world and its markets were not.
Also on the subject of boondoggles: somewhere along the line of the former NDP government buying oil-by-rail contracts to help oil exporters get around constrained pipeline capacity, then the UCP government just-as-rapidly tearing those contracts up after the election, the province is out $2.1 billion. Where exactly was the loss? Was one party or the other right or wrong? Both point the finger at the other, and with basically no public transparency around the contracts, it’s hard to tell.
Only one school board in the province has elected to use Dr. Hinshaw’s controversial Order 33 to not require indoor masking--and it’s in the heart of a coronavirus hotspot.
- Experts and research broadly agree that in extreme cases of opioid addiction, the most effective--in some cases only effective--form of therapy is injectable agonist therapy (IOAT), where patients are provided small amounts of a substitute opioid. (In Alberta, it’s typically dilaudid, used at many of our hospitals as a high-strength painkiller.) But, as our Premier frequently repeats, he is ‘against giving drugs to addicts,’ and so funding for Alberta’s IOAT program is set to expire next March. In the face of surging overdose rates during the COVID epidemic more than 600 doctors, frontline workers and patient advocates are urging the government to keep this life-saving program afloat.
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